The tip of my nose had almost touched the clear glass before the lazy electronic eye noticed I was there and triggered the door to open in front of me with a whoosh. Forgive me, a “whoosh” indicates that it opened quickly and with purpose, whereas this door opened like a petulant teenager: only moving fast enough so that no one can say it didn’t try.
The waiting area was quiet with the exception of a young couple at the counter chatting with the receptionist.
“Now serving 19” flashed above the desk and I quickly scanned the room looking for further instructions on how this “going to the emergency department” thing worked. A sign attached to the desk said, “take a number and wait for your number to be called”, but for the life of me I couldn’t find a number dispenser anywhere.
I felt a wee bit panicked. It had been years since I had needed to make an emergency room visit and the current protocol at reception was throwing me.
Do I sit? Do I stand?
The folks at the counter wrapped up their business and moved away with paperwork in hand and I hesitantly moved forward.
It was 8:00 p.m. and it was clearly the end of a very long day for the receptionist. Smiling, she asked “can I help you?”
Whew…..looks like my lack of number 20 in hand was not going to be an issue and I moved in close to the counter and handed her my medical card.
After 15 plus years, the information was still all the same, only the family doctor had changed. I nodded and said “yes” to most of her questions and then waited for a printout that would allow me to proceed through to emergency.
You can’t go through to emergency without the paperwork. It is like trying to cross the border into or out of Russia or North Korea, “Paperwork please!”. Your paperwork is your passport that entitles you to travel the road to recovery….or at least to a prescription for antibiotics.
Rounding the corner I am struck with how busy it is tonight. Uniformed police officers are milling around a bed in the far corner, the paramedics have just brought in an elderly man who is clearly confused and there is a “screamer” in the bed closest to the waiting area. If you closed your eyes, it would sound like you were standing at a rave or rock concert.
I decide to sit outside the traditional waiting area, away from the coughing and crying, snuffling and sneezing.
I still had one hurdle before I would join the queue of patients waiting to be seen. I needed to WAIT BEHIND THE PARTITION until I was called forward to be triaged.
I capitalize that because I envision someone very authoritatively dictating that to someone: “We need a sign and that sign needs to be very clear! We can’t have people wandering in willy-nilly! They need to WAIT BEHIND THE PARTITION!”.
I know why they do this and I don’t blame them. Signs are not created for the majority of the people….those people who don’t barge in, but instead patiently wait their turn. No….signs are designed for those folks who feel an overwhelming sense of entitlement, and who are not familiar with the concept of waiting.
For those impatient people, there are further reminders, stating that “verbal abuse, etc. will not be tolerated”.
Note to self: Tell someone that it might be important for the hospital to create an empathy map for the emergency room.
Before you even step foot inside the hustle and bustle you are reminded of how powerless you are in this situation.
After approximately 45 minutes I am finally next in line to be triaged. At this moment a women briskly walks in and stands right in front of the stop sign, and begins to huff and puff impatiently. I say, “I am next, and then (gesturing to the ten or so others sitting around me), these folks are next and then you”. In other words, “sit down sweetie…..I might be in pain, but I will TAKE YOU OUT!”.
The look on her face was priceless and after a little extra “huff and puff” just for me, she found a solitary seat where she could settle in for the long haul.
“Who’s next?” I hear from beyond the partition and I scramble past the divider to the waiting nurse to be triaged.
“What are you here for sweetie”, she said with a smile as she begins checking blood pressure, pulse and temperature.
“I have a rash and I think it might be shingles” I respond, moving my top slightly so that she can see it clearly. My rash is prepared for this dog and pony show and looks angrier than it did when I left the house an hour ago.
“Oooohhh” she clearly winces, “How is your pain? If you were to tell me on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the worst pain you have ever felt, what would be the number?”
My competitive streak rears it’s ugly head and I know that I can handle a lot of pain, “Oh….it is probably only a 5….I can handle much worse”, I respond with a laugh.
She smiles conspiratorially with me….that smile that says, “Thank goodness you aren’t going to be a pain in the ass tonight with your whining and wailing”.
We have the “do you have allergies” conversation and “what medications are you on” conversation and then she tells me to return to my seat and wait.
Once again I sit beyond the “STOP HERE” partition, distancing myself from the real “sicko’s” not really considering the fact that Shingles is the chicken pox virus and probably more contagious than Asthma Girl or Diabetes Man who are both visiting the hospital tonight.
Another hour has passed and no one has been called back into the treatment area. It is difficult to tell who the medical professionals are……no one wears a white coat or a cap. The nurses are all wearing something different and one is even wearing something resembling a black track-suit. The only consistency is the hospital credentials that are being worn on lanyards or clipped onto a waistband.
I don’t even know which one is the doctor. There is one man who seems to move from bed to bed, lingering long enough for me to assume that he is providing some type of care. He has a very long, “robust” beard not unlike what I imagine Jesus to have had and therefore in my mind he is now known as “Doctor J”.
I am little disappointed with my analogy. He might look like Jesus, but he doesn’t work as efficiently as how I imagine Jesus would. I mean……no one has been treated yet and the waiting area is overflowing. At this point I would have appreciated some water turned into wine simply to take the edge off.
I text my husband, “The doctor on call looks like Jesus so you would think that he would have this healing thing down pat.”
I text my mother, “The doctor looks like Jesus and I am pretty sure there is a bird nesting in his beard”.
No reason that I couldn’t be sick and be funny……..
Unfortunately, my phone autocorrect that to read, “The doctor looks Jewish and I am pretty sure there is a bird nesting in his beard”.
So my mom texts back, “Jewish?”
“No…I meant Jesus…he looks like Jesus”, I tap back with a sigh.
Then I type out to whomever is still online: “The strategy this evening is to take so long that we either leave or die”
Badump-bump (taps the mic….is this thing on?)
We have now entered hour three and still no movement from the waiting area with the exception of two people who walked in from the Emergency Ambulance Bay and who were clearly bleeding.
Blood trumps strange rash. I am okay with that.
Laughter erupts from the cramped waiting room and I am curious so I grab my things and relocate to where the party obviously is being held.
It is the television. Everyone is mesmerized by a show about domestic cats. The laughter was over a video of a hairless cat.
We make up an unlikely group of people: An elderly man and woman who have been there since I have and are clearly exhausted. The man keeps squirming uncomfortably in his wheelchair while the wife busies herself crocheting a blanket. At this rate, she might finish it; a young woman holding her sleeping daughter in her arms; a man struggling to breathe, I could hear the wheezing from his chest.
And me…..and my rash.
The wheezing man offers me his seat and I say, “no…I have sitting for hours, thank you” and I lean against the wall and resume watching the cat program.
I hear some activity behind me. “Mr. X had a bowel movement” says a nurse to her counterpart behind the nursing station. “Someone needs to clean it up…wait! Mr. X! Don’t get up….we are coming to help you!” and they both run past the curtain where Mr. X is lying.
Poor Mr. X……
We are now approached by a petite nurse wearing cheerful pink scrubs and we all lean forward excitedly. She holds all of our charts in her arms and begins calling out our names. False alarm…..she simply is checking in, re-assessing each of us, making sure that none of us are sicker than when we arrived.
Two people don’t respond to her roll call. They were tired. They have left. They were all behind me so it offers me no unexpected advantage.
“How would you rate your pain?” she asks me, referring to my chart.
My pain…..my pain? I am so tired that I can’t distinguish between pain and exhaustion. It has now been three and half hours of waiting and the time is nearing 11:30 p.m.
“I would have to say it has grown to a 7”, I say tiredly, but honestly I don’t know anymore. In the back of my mind I wonder if I said, “15”, would it move me to the beginning of the imaginary, unmoving line?
The elderly man wants to leave and says as much, “I want to go home, but my wife insists that we stay”.
The nurse is kind. She understands and shakes her head as if to say, “I know it has been a long wait”.
A prompt now appears across the screen of the television. “This television will revert to standby mode shortly”.
What does that mean? We all look at each other and I say laughingly, “It will probably turn off”.
And then it did. It turned off.
We all laugh. We are all in this together now and have bonded like survivors on an island. “Wheezing Man” stands up and reaches behind the television to find the button to bring forth life to the screen.
The cat show is over and a new program begins and someone says, “Hey….we have seen this already”. Oh my goodness! They have been waiting for so long that they are still here for the second airing of a program.
“Wheezing Man” begins to change channels just as a new doctor comes forward and says, “Mr. S?” and scans the room for a response. The elderly woman jumps up (yes….jumps up) and tosses her crocheting into her handbag. With a deftness that belies her visual age, she begins pushing her husband’s chair towards the treatment room with the efficiency and control of a seasoned airport porter.
You don’t have to ask her twice.
I wonder where Doctor Jesus went? I haven’t seen him for hours.
I sit down and Wheezing Man leans over and asks, “what are you here for?” akin to an inmate asking the same question.
“Pulled muscle”, I lie…. embarrassed to admit that I am here for a rash on my boobage.
The new doctor means business and in 15 minutes the waiting room is almost devoid of people with the exception of myself and one other.
“Judy?” he calls and motions me to the room with the door. It is 12:27 a.m. and I have now been here four and a half hours.
“What seems to be the problem?” he says kindly and with interest.
I pull my top down to reveal my rash and before I say, “I think I have shingles”, he says, “You have shingles”.
It is 12:29 a.m.
For the next three or four minutes he explains shingles and how they can affect a person. He also says that I should have come in sooner to which I laughed and said, “I was here this morning once but left because hey….it was just a rash”.
12:34 a.m. and I have been given a dose of anti-viral’s and have a prescription in my hand for more. The waiting room is empty, and the television is showing an infomercial about some type of blender. I can’t see where Doctor Jesus is….he might have gone home, perhaps he was overwhelmed with the sheer number of walking wounded tonight. Perhaps the bird in his beard needed to be fed. Who knows….
Once home I strip out of my clothing and wash my hands thoroughly. I take my four oddly shaped anti-viral tablets and crawl into bed. It is now 1:00 a.m.
I am strangely proud of myself. I stayed there for four and a half hours. I didn’t get angry, I didn’t give in to the frustration. Everyone was nice. Everyone was patient.
Some would say, “it is what it is” and that is exactly right, “it was what it was” and nothing I could have said or done would have changed it.
Being powerless can be powerful.